Last week, while on my post-novel inbox detox, I got a welcome missive. ‘Meet Miss America!’ announced the subject line. How could I refuse? It didn’t matter that I had no idea who she was, why she was going to be here, and what would be expected of me following the experience. This was one event not to be missed.
I’ve always been both intrigued and wary of beauty pageants. My first memory of them was watching Miss Universe on a grainy Philips TV in the rumpus room of my childhood home in Sydney. I was transfixed by the big hair, the dresses littered with rhinestones, and the swimsuits bursting with the sort of curves I one day hoped to own. I didn’t give a dot about the talent or the interviews. I lived for the glitter and the sparkle.
My interest was piqued again, somewhat negatively, by the murder of the pint-sized pageant star, JonBenét Ramsey, in 1996 and again in that great movie Little Miss Sunshine with its powerful, yet understated themes of child sexualisation. And wasn’t their something about a recent Miss USA and sex and drugs and what not? And who can forget Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality and its adventurously named sequel Miss Congeniality 2?
So, it was with a healthy degree of fascination that I went along today to meet Teresa Scanlan – the 17-year-old former Miss Nebraska and current Miss America. She was in town to launch the new Joseph Ribkoff collection (an event sponsor and maker of classic, travel friendly clothing – I promise more on the designer in another post).
I had it in mind to ask her thoughts on world peace and whether or not she put vaseline on her teeth to stop her lips from sticking when she smiled. But Teresa didn’t fit the stereotype, so I did my best not to either. To look at, she is the epitome of the fresh-faced, white-toothed, taut-bodied, blonde-haired pageant girl you’d expect. Speaking to her, however, is disarming.
At 17, I was running around with boys, spending all my money on clothes and drinking Tropicana straight from the cask. It’s an embarrassment to compare myself to the incumbent Miss America – a girl who graduated high school early (which is how come she’s one of the youngest entrants to take home the title), tickles the ivories like a concert pianist (check it out), and aspires to be a Supreme Court judge (and no, that’s not just a line). Nor is Teresa a child pageant prodigy. She entered because she needed the US$50,000 prize to get herself through college. She’s heading off to do a law degree once this year is over. And one day, who knows? Scanlan for president? It’s been on her list since she was six. I wouldn’t be surprised…
PS. These last two photos are my favourites. On the left, Teresa shows us where she keeps her crown. And on the right she’s with Alex from Alex Loves… (we haven’t seen each other since we met at a chi-chi dinner at Aqua Kyoto earlier this year, so it was great to catch up face-to-face).
All images © Kate McAuley